We’re a nation of poetry lovers. And it’s no surprise when there are so many incredible poems out there, all waiting to stir, surprise, entertain and amuse us. There are poems on every subject under the sun, as well as every emotion, including, of course, loss and grief.
Whether they are read during funeral services, or in private moments by those who grieve, poems can mirror our feelings of loss, reflect the personality of those no longer with us, and give us hope for a future without them.
People choose all sorts of poems for funerals these days – I’ve been asked to read everything from William Wordsworth to Spike Milligan. Delivered at the right moment and in the right way, they can be very powerful, sometimes creating as much laughter as tears. And that, in my humble opinion, is what a good funeral is all about.
Here’s a selection of some of them. I have attributed authors to each poem where possible. If you spot any inaccuracies, or know of authors I’ve missed, please do let me know! Click on the poem title to read it.
- But Not Forgotten by Dorothy Parker
I think no matter where you stray,
That I shall go with you a way.
Though you may wander sweeter lands,
You will not forget my hands,
Nor yet the way I held my head
Nor the tremulous things I said.
You will still see me, small and white
And smiling, in the secret night,
And feel my arms about you when
The day comes fluttering back again.
I think, no matter where you be,
You’ll hold me in your memory
And keep my image there without me,
By telling later loves about me.
- No Night Without Helen Steiner Rice
There is no night without a dawning
No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing ….
For those who leave us for a while
Have only gone away
Out of a restless, care worn world
Into a brighter day
- They Are Not Dead Author unknown
They are not dead, who leave us this great heritage of remembering joy.
They still live in our hearts,
In the happiness we knew, in the dreams we shared.
They still breathe,
In the lingering fragrance, windblown, from their favourite flowers.
They still smile in the moonlight’s silver,
And laugh in the sunlight’s sparking gold.
They still speak in the echoes of the words we’ve heard them say again and again.
They still move,
In the rhythm of waving grasses, in the dance of the tossing branches.
They are not dead;
Their memory is warm in our hearts, comfort in our sorrow.
They are not apart from us, but part of us,
For love is eternal,
And those we love shall be with us throughout all eternity.
- Tomorrows Simon Bridges
After this day has darkened and gone
And I wake to the rest of my life
I shall think of the times and the places we saw
When we were husband and wife.
And I know I shall visit those places we loved
And walk by the fields and the sea
Where you and I spent our happiest hours
And somehow you’ll be there with me.
If I go through the woods to the top of the hill
Or run barefoot over the sand
I shall hear your voice in the wind, my love,
And feel the touch of your hand.
And people who see me on my own
As they pass me on the track
Might wonder why, if I’m really alone,
I pause sometimes and look back
To where the roadside trees are blurred
By the early evening mist;
I’ll be waiting for you to catch up, my love,
From where you’ve stopped to rest.
And though people will find many ways to be kind
They will never understand
How I hear your voice in the sigh of the wind
And feel the touch of your hand.
- Dedicatory Ode by Hilaire Belloc
From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.
- When I Die Author unknown
When I die and leave behind
This earth I love
These trees, this sky,
The pounding sea,
The yearly hope of spring,
Cry not for me,
My soul has wings
And in its freedom sings
- Afterglow Author unknown
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways
Of happy times, and laughing times, and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun
Of happy memories that I leave, when life is done.
- No Funeral Gloom by Ellen Terry
No funeral gloom, my dears, when I am gone,
Corpse-gazing, tears, black raiment, graveyard grimness.
Think of me as withdrawn into the dimness,
Yours still, you mine.
Remember all the best of our past moments and forget the rest,
And so to where I wait come gently on.
- At Rest Author unknown
Think of me as one at rest,
for me you should not weep
I have no pain no troubled thoughts
for I am just asleep
The living thinking me that was,
is now forever still
And life goes on without me now,
as time forever will.
If your heart is heavy now
because I’ve gone away
Dwell not long upon it friend
For none of us can stay
Those of you who liked me,
I sincerely thank you all
And those of you who loved me,
I thank you most of all.
And in my fleeting lifespan,
as time went rushing by
I found some time to hesitate,
to laugh, to love, to cry
Matters it now if time began
If time will ever cease?
I was here, I used it all,
and now I am at peace.
- Glad That I Live Am I Lizette W Reese
Glad that I live am I
That the sky is blue.
Glad for the country lanes
and the fall of dew.
After the sun the rain
After the rain the sun
This is the way of life
‘Til the work is done.
All that we need to do
Be we low or high
Is to see that we grow
Nearer the sky.
- The Life That I Have by Leo Marks
(Code Poem for the French Resistance)
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
- Untitled by Charlie Daniels
A brief candle; both ends burning. An endless mile; a bus wheel turning.
A friend to share the lonesome times. A handshake and a sip of wine.
So say it loud and let it ring. We are all a part of everything.
The future, present and the past. Fly on proud bird.
You’re free at last.
(written en route to the funeral of his friend, Ronnie Van Zant, frontman of the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd.)
- Farewell by Anne Bronte
Farewell to Thee! But not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of Thee;
Within my heart they still shall dwell
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
Life seems more sweet that Thou didst live
And men more true Thou wert one;
Nothing is lost that Thou didst give,
Nothing destroyed that Thou hast done.
- To a descendant by Lorna Wood
I shall not be an importunate, nagging ghost,
Sighing for unsaid prayers: or a family spectre
Advertising that someone is due to join me…
Nor one who has to be exorcised by the Rector.
I shall not be the commercial type of ghost,
Pointing to boxes of gold under the floor
And I certainly don’t intend to jangle chains
Or carry my head… (such a gruesome type of chore!)
I shall not cause draughts, be noisy, spoil your ‘let’, ―
In fact, to be brief, I shan’t materialise.
But I shall be pleased if anyone ever sees me
In your face or your walk or the glance of your laughing eyes.
- Untitled by Cecil Day Lewis
Her laughter was better than the birds in the morning,
her smile turned the edge of the wind,
her memory disarms death and charms the surly grave.
Early she went to bed,
too early we saw her light put out;
yet we could not grieve more than a little while,
For she lives in the earth around us, laughs from the sky.
- Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Sailors Prayer by Charles D. Williams
For fair winds and a following sea
The smell of salt in the air,
The feel of their skin as it’s touched by the spray
An albatross soaring above,
Dolphins in the ship’s wake at play
To witness a work of art that only God can create,
The sunset at the end of day
At night a million stars in the sky,
Safe anchorage in an islands lee
When the time comes to die as for all it must,
To awake in Sailors Heaven where nothing ever rusts
And always there would be,
Fair winds and a following sea
- Untitled by Ben Jonson
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night,–
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.
- He Knows No Winter by Sudie Stuart Hager
He knows no winter, he who loves the soil,
For, stormy days, when he is free from toil,
He plans his summer crops, selects his seeds
From bright-paged catalogues for garden needs.
When looking out upon frost-silvered fields,
He visualizes autumn’s golden yields;
He sees in snow and sleet and icy rain
Precious moisture for his early grain;
He hears spring-heralds in the storm’s ’ turmoil
He knows no winter, he who loves the soil.
- Belief by Ann Thorpe
I have to believe
That you still exist
That you still watch me
That you still love me
I have to believe
That life has meaning
That I am useful here
That I make small differences
I have to believe
That I need to stay here
For some time,
That all this teaches me
So that I can meet you again
- My Last Day by Emma Bombeck
They say live each day as if it were your last.
Well, I ask you, how impractical can you get?
If today had been my last day
I wouldn’t have wasted it going to work!
I’d have gone to see my loved ones
to tell them of the joy they give me;
how their love has enriched my life;
how sad I am to be leaving them alone without me;
to be leaving the world where they live;
how full of regret I’m feeling.
They’d get pretty pissed off with me if I did that every day.
I’ve got a better idea.
Why not live each day as if it were your first?
You’d spend your life marvelling
at the fabulous, vibrant, living world around you.
Taking nothing for granted
you’d rediscover love every day.
You’d always be aware of what your loved ones mean to you,
how they delight you even when they’re being horrible.
You’d want to give all of your love
to anyone who cared to receive it,
to share in the miracle of life with every solitary and universal heartbeat.
You’d trust anyone,
unless they proved themselves unworthy;
and you wouldn’t care if they did -
wisdom would be their gift to you.
You’d be happy,
and every moment would overflow
with ridiculous promise.
Let the first be first
and the last be first.
And then move on,
- I’m Still Here Author Unknown
Friend, please don’t mourn for me
I’m still here, though you don’t see.
I’m right by your side each night and day
And within your heart I long to stay.
My body is gone but I’m always near.
I’m everything you feel, see or hear.
My spirit is free, but I’ll never depart
As long as you keep me alive in your heart.
I’ll never wander out of your sight
I’m the brightest star on a summer night.
I’ll never be beyond your reach
I’m the warm moist sand when you’re at the beach.
I’m the colourful leaves when Autumn’s around
And the pure white snow that blankets the ground.
I’m the beautiful flowers of which you’re so fond,
The clear cool water in a quiet pond.
I’m the first bright blossom you’ll see in the spring,
The first warm raindrop that April will bring.
I’m the first ray of light when the sun starts to shine,
And you’ll see that the face in the moon is mine.
I’m the hot salty tears that flow when you weep
And the beautiful dreams that come while you sleep.
I’m the smile you see on a baby’s face.
Just look for me, friend, I’m every place!
- Some People by Flavia Weedn
Some people come into our lives
and leave footprints on our hearts
and we are never ever the same.
They celebrate the true essence
of who we are…
and have faith in all
that we may become.
Some people awaken us
to new and deeper realizations…
for we gain insight
from the passing whisper of their wisdom.
Throughout our lives we are sent
meant to share our journey
however brief or lasting their stay
they remind us why we are here.
Some people come into our lives
to cast a steady light
upon our path and guide our every step
their shining belief in us
helps us to believe in ourselves.
Some people come into our
lives to teach us about love…
The love that rests within ourselves.
Some people come into our lives
and they move our souls to sing
and make our spirits dance.
They help us to see that everything on earth
is part of the incredibility of life…
and that it is always there
for us to take of its joy.
Some people come into our lives
and leave footprints on our hearts
and we are never ever the same
- Life by Charlotte Bronte
Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!
- The Suicides by Janet Frame
It is hard for us to enter
the kind of despair they must have known
and because it is hard we must get in by breaking
the lock if necessary for we have not the key,
though for them there was no lock and the surrounding walls
were supple, receiving as waves, and they drowned
though not lovingly; it is we only
who must enter in this way.
Temptations will beset us, once we are in.
We may want to catalogue what they have stolen.
We may feel suspicion; we may even criticise the décor
of their suicidal despair, may perhaps feel
it was incongruously comfortable.
Knowing the temptations then
let us go in
deep to their despair and their skin and know
they died because words they had spoken
returned always homeless to them.
- Darling by Jackie Kay
You might forget the exact sound of her voice,
Or how her face looked when sleeping.
You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping
Curled into the shape of a half moon,
When smaller than her self, she seemed already to be leaving
Before she left, when the blossom was on the trees
And the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.
I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –
Heil Ya Ho Boys, Let her go Boys
And when I stopped singing she had slipped away,
Already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,
Her heart light, her face almost smiling.
And what I didn’t know, or couldn’t see then,
Was that she hadn’t really gone.
The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.
The dead are still here holding our hands.
- Your mother is always with you Author unknown
Your mother is always with you
She’s the whisper of the leaves
as you walk down the street.
She’s the smell of bleach in
your freshly laundered socks.
She’s the cool hand on your brow
when you’re not well.
Your mother lives inside your laughter.
She’s crystallized in every tear drop…
She’s the place you came from, your first home.
She’s the map you follow with every step that you take.
She’s your first love and your first heartbreak….
and nothing on earth can separate you.
- Woodland Burial by Pam Ayres
Don’t lay me in some gloomy churchyard shaded by a wall
Where the dust of ancient bones has spread a dryness over all,
Lay me in some leafy loam where, sheltered from the cold
Little seeds investigate and tender leaves unfold.
There kindly and affectionately, plant a native tree
To grow resplendent before God and hold some part of me.
The roots will not disturb me as they wend their peaceful way
To build the fine and bountiful, from closure and decay.
To seek their small requirements so that when their work is done
I’ll be tall and standing strongly in the beauty of the sun.
- Reunited by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Let us begin, dear love, where we left off;
Tie up the broken threads of that old dream,
And go on happy as before, and seem
Lovers again, though all the world may scoff.
Let us forget the graves which lie between
Our parting and our meeting, and the tears
That rusted out the gold-work of the years,
The frosts that fell upon our gardens green.
Let us forget the cold, malicious Fate
Who made our loving hearts her idle toys,
And once more revel in the old sweet joys
Of happy love. Nay, it is not too late!
Forget the deep-ploughed furrows in my brow;
Forget the silver gleaming in my hair;
Look only in my eyes! Oh! darling, there
The old love shone no warmer then than now.
Down in the tender deeps of thy dear eyes
I find the lost sweet memory of my youth,
Bright with the holy radiance of thy truth,
And hallowed with the blue of summer skies.
Tie up the broken threads and let us go,
Like reunited lovers, hand in hand,
Back, and yet onward, to the sunny land
Of our To Be, which was our Long Ago.
- Cotswold Lad Author unknown
The farm remains he laboured on
And cherished like a lover;
The land remains but he is gone;
The sunlight days are over.
He was most loyal and a friend
With gentle ways of giving,
He took the blows that fate can send
As well as any living.
He loved the hills that were his home,
He loved sunrise and setting;
He loved to see the green corn come,
He loved the harvest getting.
Where fields are girt with Cotswold stone,
Where Cotswold kind go reaping,
Among the folk he called his own
The Cotswold lad is sleeping.
- Handbag by Ruth Fainlight
My mother’s old leather handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother’s handbag: mints
and lipstick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened,
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.
- Feel No Guilt In Laughter Author unknown
Feel no guilt in laughter; he’d know how much you care.
Feel no sorrow in a smile that he is not here to share.
You cannot grieve forever; he would not want you to.
He’d hope that you could carry on the way you always do.
So, talk about the good times and the way you showed you cared,
The days you spent together, all the happiness you shared.
Let memories surround you, a word someone may say,
Will suddenly recapture a time, an hour, a day,
That brings him back as clearly as though he were still here,
And fills you with the feeling that he is always near.
For if you keep those moments, you will never be apart,
And he will live forever, locked safely within your heart.
- Sad Music Roger McGough
We fall to earth like leaves
Lives as brief as footprints in the snow
No words express the grief we feel
I feel I cannot let her go.
For she is everywhere.
Walking on the windswept beach
Talking in the sunlit square.
Next to me in the car
I see her sitting there.
At night she dreams me
And in the morning the sun does not rise.
My life is as thin as the wind
And I am done with counting stars.
She is gone, she is gone.
I am her sad music, and I play on, and on, and on.
- Love You More by James Carter
Do I love you
to the moon and back?
No I love you
more than that
I love you to the desert sands
the mountains, stars
the planets and
I love you to the deepest sea
and deeper still
Before beyond I love you then
I love you now
I’ll love you when
The sun’s gone out
the moon’s gone home
and all the stars are fully grown
When I no longer say these words
I’ll give them to the wind, the birds
so that they will still be heard
I love you
- The Book by Paul Meadows
Go to that place we loved, our secret place.
Close your eyes and you’ll see my face.
Play that tune, that tune we loved to hear.
Close your eyes and you’ll see me clear.
Walk on a beach or climb to the top of a hill.
Close your eyes and you’ll see me still.
Take a sip of wine, of dark red wine.
Close your eyes and you’ll see me fine.
At night go out and look at the brightest star.
Close your eyes and you’ll see me far.
On a day when the sky is blue and cold and clear,
Close your eyes and you’ll see me near.
Take down a book that would have been my choice.
Open the book. Close your eyes. You’ll hear my voice.
- Untitled by MD Hughes
The tide recedes, but leaves behind
Bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle warmth
Still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it lingers
On in sweet refrain.
For every joy that passes
Something beautiful remains.
- Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
Utters itself. So, a woman will lift
Her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
At the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
Enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
Then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
In the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
Console the lodger looking out across
A Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
A child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
- Good Manners by John Quinnett
One of the things I like about Granny
Is her manners. She never forgets them.
Not if you’re a guest at the house. Not
If you’re a stranger who just happens by.
“Come on in. Git yerself a seat. Are
You’uns hungry? I’ll fetch a plate.
There’s a-plenty.” And she says it like
She means it, getting up from her chair
And stirring around until she’s sure
You’re comfortable. Then, politely,
With perfect timing, she’ll ask about
Your family, comment on the weather,
Or mention something she heard that day
On the news. Her whole aim and purpose
Is to make you feel at home, kindly,
Finely, with manners befitting a queen.
To Granny, it seems to come so natural.